Well, it’s official. Our new nonfiction book club finally has a name – Nonfiction Addiction! And the process was even democratic – last month, members submitted names and then voted on their favorite.
So, are you addicted to nonfiction? Do you like reading about current events and famous people? Do you sometimes need a break from fiction? Or maybe you’re like my father, who reads nonfiction exclusively and will only deign to pick up a fictional novel if it’s by Charles Dickens. Well, you’re in luck. I promise we won’t ever read anything by Dickens (for that you’ll want to join our other book club – the Main Street Book Club!) – instead we’ll read biographies and books featuring current and past phenomena.
Tomorrow (May 1st at 6:00 p.m.) we’ll be discussing Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden. I first heard about this book from my sister-in-law, who was going through several books about North Korea. It sounded fascinating, and reading it did not disappoint. It’s about the only known escapee from one of the forced labor camps in North Korea. This is a short book, but that doesn’t make it an easy read. Conditions in these camps are actually unimaginable – and that is not hyperbole. I actually had a difficult time picturing the lives of these inmates in my head. There is no such thing as familial love for a lot of people. They are raised in families, but they compete for even the smallest scraps of food. They are also rewarded for snitching to the guards. Inmates have no concept that the outside world exists – they don’t know that there are people living in countries with ready access to food, education, and shelter. They are born knowing nothing else but the terrible, desperate lives they lead. The following is a short excerpt from Escape from Camp 14, speaking of Shin Dong-hyuk, the subject of the book: “He had no hope to lose, no past to mourn, no pride to defend. He did not find it degrading to lick soup off the floor. He was not ashamed to beg a guard for forgiveness. It didn’t trouble his conscience to betray a friend for food. These were merely survival skills, not motives for suicide.”
To think that this is going on in the world right now boggles the mind. And it’s just so completely unacceptable. Most of these people are being held for minor infractions or because they know or are related to the wrong people.
And this is why I love books, especially nonfiction. Because there may not be much we can do about the problem, especially because North Korea is such a closed country. But at least we can read about it and think about it and discuss it, until something does change for the better.